Here is May’s Installment of “Ask Shelby” with Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
I’m worried about my daughter. At 13, she’s already struggling with her body image. She says terrible things about her body, and I’m worried she learned this from me. I’m always dieting and have never felt comfortable with my weight. What can I do to correct this? Is it too late?
Signed, Bad Body Image
Dear Bad Body Image,
Many women struggle with accepting and liking their bodies. We have so many mixed messages thrown at us through TV, magazines, movies, etc. about what the “ideal” body is supposed to look like. I turned to my colleague, Lisa Tretta-Brugger, LMFT for advice, as she specializes in body image issues and eating disorders. She wrote:
Sometimes we get extremely focused on the ways our bodies do not measure up to our standards. “I am not thin enough”. “My hips are too big”. “I need Botox for my aging skin”. If we are not careful, we become hyper focused on those aspects of ourselves that we consider flaws and forget all of the ways that our bodies help us and challenge us. Too much negativity towards our bodies will quite naturally lead to a negative body image. Below I have outlined some simple tips to help release us from some of the negative thought patterns we have about our bodies and take notice of some of the strengths and traits we each possess.
1. Stand in front of a full length mirror and slowly scan yourself from head to toe. Make sure to take into account all aspects of yourself—consider the color of your hair, the freckles on your face, the smooth surface of your fingernails, or even the tone of your skin. Our bodies have much to offer us. In this scan of yourself, see if you can find at least three things you like or appreciate about your body. Write down the three body parts you like and keep the list by your mirror.
2. While remaining in front of the mirror, try and identify at least one way in which your body serves you. Consider, perhaps, the strength of your legs and how they allow you to carry bags of groceries up several flights of stairs. Or, consider how the strength of your arms allows you to hold your children and hug them in a way that they know you love them. Our bodies serve us tremendously throughout the day. Can you find something that you appreciate about your body’s ability? Add this to your list from the exercise above. Every morning, as you get up and get ready for your day, review the list as a reminder to you about the positive attributes of your body. Verbally thank your body for its gifts.
3. As we attempt to think about our bodies in a more grateful way, I find it helps us to remember that we have a relationship with our bodies similar to the relationships we have with our friends, our partners, and our children. Think for a moment about the relationship you have with your body. Do you judge it, abuse it, and often remind it of its flaws and failures? Can you imagine what type of relationship you would have with a friend if you treated a friend in this way? I imagine you might lose a friend if you were only focused on his/her flaws and reminded him/her of them daily. The relationship with our bodies is not much different. Can you befriend your body and begin to treat it with the same warmth, kindness, and compassion you might treat a friend? Our relationship with our bodies is not very different from our relationships with other people in lives—our bodies will thank us if we treat them kindly.
4. Our bodies change on a daily basis. Some days my body feels heavy and other days my body feels light. Some days I can master a yoga pose and the next day I am far from reaching the same pose I just conquered the day before. Our bodies are in motion and in constant flux and change. Can you accept your body for where it is today rather than focusing on what it was yesterday or what you hope it will be tomorrow? Today, how is your body holding itself? Today, how is your body serving you? Just for today, can you appreciate what your body has to offer?
5. If we have a tendency to get stuck in negative thoughts about our bodies we also have a tendency to treat our bodies punitively. One of the most common ways I see women punish themselves is by restricting clothes that they want to wear until they feel their body is an acceptable shape or size. Often, this leads to pressure to look a different way and invites more negative thoughts to follow. As the summer approaches and we think about changing our wardrobe to accommodate the warmer weather, what if we allowed ourselves to buy or wear clothes that fit us now? Instead of waiting until we “drop the last 10 pounds” or “get a little more toned” to buy a summer dress or bathing suit, can we buy clothes that fit our body as it is now? Again, our bodies will thank us as we dress them to honor them rather than punish them.
I recommend trying Lisa’s exercises, and sharing them with your daughter. It is never too late to address body image issues. If you feel like things aren’t improving, you can always work with a trained therapist. You can find Lisa, and other great therapists like her, at www.therapistlocator.net. You can search by last name (i.e. “Brugger”), by city, or by zipcode.
Don’t forget to check out Shelby’s website: www.shelbyrileymft.com for more information about her private practice and speaking engagements. Shelby is the President-Elect for the PA Assoc of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). For more great family related resources, Like “PAMFT” on FaceBook.